Appellate Court Opinions

Format: 12/01/2020
Format: 12/01/2020
In Re Edward R.
M2019-01263-COA-R3-PT

This appeal involves the termination of a mother’s parental rights to two children. The trial court found by clear and convincing evidence that four grounds for termination had been proven and that it was in the best interest of the children to terminate Mother’s parental rights. Mother appeals. For the following reasons, we reverse the trial court’s ruling on two grounds for termination but otherwise affirm the order terminating Mother’s parental rights.

Maury County Court of Appeals 11/06/20
In Re Edward R. - Concurring In Part and Dissenting In Part
M2019-01263-COA-R3-PT

Although I concur with the end result reached by the majority in this case, I write separately to address two issues. First, while the majority correctly concludes that Mother’s parental rights should be terminated based upon the persistent conditions ground, more analysis is warranted in light of the sparseness of DCS’s case. Second, I must dissent from the majority’s decision to conclude, based on In re Amynn K., No. E2017-01866-COAR3-PT, 2018 WL 3058280 (Tenn. Ct. App. June 20, 2018), that DCS satisfied its burden of proving that Mother failed to manifest a willingness and ability to assume legal or physical custody of her children.  

Maury County Court of Appeals 11/06/20
Alvin Lewis v. State Farm
W2019-01493-COA-R3-CV

Appellant was injured in an automobile accident, and a jury found that an unknown motorist was 100% at fault and awarded damages in favor of Appellant. Thereafter, the trial court denied Appellant prejudgment interest on its finding that Appellant’s uninsured automobile insurance policy with Appellee State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company precludes an award of prejudgment interest. We conclude that the policy language “all damages” is sufficiently broad to include prejudgment interest. However, because the award of prejudgment interest is an equitable consideration within the discretion of the trial court, we decline to address Appellant’s issue concerning whether prejudgment interest is necessary and equitable in this case. This question is remanded to the trial court. Vacated and remanded.

Tipton County Court of Appeals 11/05/20
STATE OF TENNESSEE v. HOWARD JASON STEWART
M2019-01421-CCA-R3-CD

The Defendant, Howard Stewart, was convicted by a Lawrence County Circuit Court jury of first degree premeditated murder and theft of property valued at $10,000 or more but less than $60,000, a Class C felony. See T.C.A. §§ 39-13-202 (2018) (first degree murder), 39-14-103 (2018) (theft), 39-14-105 (2018) (grading of theft). The trial court modified the Defendant’s theft conviction to theft of property valued at $1,000 or less, a Class A misdemeanor, and imposed concurrent sentences of life imprisonment for first degree murder and eleven months, twenty-nine days for theft. On appeal, the Defendant contends that (1) the evidence is insufficient to support his convictions, (2) the trial court erred by admitting inadmissible hearsay evidence, (3) the court erred by admitting two photographs of the victim, and (4) the cumulative error of the evidentiary issues entitles him to a new trial. We affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Lawrence County Court of Criminal Appeals 11/05/20
Kerry Davis v. Garrettson Ellis, MD
W2019-01367-COA-R3-CV

This is a health care liability case. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Appellee/doctor finding that Appellant’s expert witness failed to connect the decedent’s death to Appellee’s alleged deviation from the standard of care. We conclude that Appellant presented sufficient evidence, at the summary judgment stage, to create a dispute of fact concerning deviation from the standard of care and causation. Accordingly, we reverse the trial court’s grant of summary judgment.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 11/05/20
Daphne Saunders v. Y-12 Federal Credit Union
E2020-00046-COA-R3-CV

The plaintiff, Daphne Saunders, filed a complaint against Y-12 Federal Credit Union (“Y-12”), alleging breach of the parties’ banking contract. Ms. Saunders asserted that Y- 12 had charged excessive fees for items presented for payment from Ms. Saunders’s account that were returned due to insufficient funds. Ms. Saunders also alleged breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing and asserted that Y-12 had been unjustly enriched by charging excessive fees. The trial court dismissed Ms. Saunders’s claims with prejudice, finding that Ms. Saunders had failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. Ms. Saunders has appealed. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm.

Anderson County Court of Appeals 11/05/20
MC Builders, LLC v. Fuad Reveiz, Et Al.
E2019-01813-COA-R3-CV

On the day of trial, the parties to this action, through counsel, settled the case amongst themselves and testified in open court as to the specific terms of the settlement and their consent thereto. One party filed a motion pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 60.02, seeking to repudiate the settlement agreement before the trial court entered an order adopting the settlement and ordering judgment. We affirm the trial court’s decision. We also conclude the appeal is frivolous and remand for an assessment of damages.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 11/05/20
New Phase Investments, LLC, et al. v. Elite RE Investments, LLC, et al.
W2019-00980-COA-R10-CV

An internecine conflict led to a suit asserting breach of contract and a variety of torts. The defendants moved to compel arbitration, but the trial court deferred ruling on the motion. Instead, the court granted the plaintiff’s request for a temporary injunction and ordered the parties to mediate their dispute. When the defendants refused to participate in mediation, the court held them in contempt. We granted the application of the defendants for an extraordinary appeal to determine whether the trial court erred in not proceeding summarily to the determination of whether there was an agreement to arbitrate. Upon review, we vacate the three orders issued after the motion to compel arbitration was filed and remand for the court to determine whether a valid agreement to arbitrate exists.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 11/05/20
State of Tennessee v. Kendall Rivers
E2019-01541-CCA-R3-CD

The defendant, Kendall Rivers, appeals his Knox County Criminal Court jury conviction of voluntary manslaughter, claiming that the trial court erred by admitting into evidence a video recording taken from the defendant’s cellular telephone, by imposing the maximum sentence, and by ordering the defendant to serve his sentence in confinement. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Knox County Court of Criminal Appeals 11/03/20
Jaron Harris v. State of Tennessee
E2020-00017-CCA-R3-PC

Jaron Harris, Petitioner, filed a pro se post-conviction petition and an amended petition through counsel, claiming he was denied the effective assistance of counsel, due process, and equal protection based on the racial composition of the jury. The post-conviction court denied relief. Although Petitioner mentions ineffective assistance of counsel in his brief, the only issue raised on appeal is the stand-alone equal protection issue, citing the racial composition of the jury. Because Petitioner failed to raise the jury composition issue on direct appeal of his convictions and because Petitioner abandoned the other issues raised in his post-conviction petition, those issues are waived. We affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

Knox County Court of Criminal Appeals 11/03/20
Associates Asset Management, LLC b. Sheila Smith
M2019-02217-COA-R3-CV

The issue in this appeal is whether the defendant waived the court’s lack of personal jurisdiction through insufficient service of process by making a general appearance. It is undisputed that service of process on the defendant was insufficient when this case commenced in the general sessions court. Nevertheless, the defendant’s counsel appeared on behalf of the defendant in the general sessions court, and the court set a trial date. Prior to a trial on the merits, the defendant filed a motion to dismiss the civil warrant premised on insufficient service of process. The record does not include any ruling on that motion, and the general sessions court transferred the case to the circuit court by agreement of the parties before a trial on the merits. Shortly thereafter, the defendant filed her second motion to dismiss the action based on insufficient service of process. The circuit court denied the motion ruling that, although service of process was insufficient, the defendant waived the issue by making a general appearance in general sessions court. The court entered a final judgment in favor of the plaintiff for $35,667.42, and this appeal followed. In Tennessee, a party makes a general appearance for the purposes of waiver by seeking affirmative action from the court on an issue related to the merits of the dispute. See Landers v. Jones, 872 S.W.2d 674, 677 (Tenn. 1994); see also Tenn. Code Ann. § 16-15-505 (any issues related to the general sessions court’s jurisdiction must be raised “before the hearing, or they will be considered as waived.”). There is nothing in the record indicating that the defendant sought affirmative action from the court on an issue related to the merits of the dispute in the general sessions court prior to filing her motion to dismiss. Further, the record shows that the defendant promptly filed another motion to dismiss on the same ground when the case was transferred to the circuit court. Therefore, the defendant did not waive the issue of insufficient service of process. Because it is undisputed that service of process was insufficient, we reverse the judgment of the trial court, and this case is remanded with instructions to vacate the judgment and to dismiss the action.

Robertson County Court of Appeals 11/03/20
State of Tennessee v. Billy Ray Moats
E2019-02244-CCA-R3-CD

The Defendant, Billy Ray Moats, appeals from his Knox County Criminal Court convictions for two counts each of aggravated burglary and theft of property valued at $500 or more but less than $1,000. On appeal, the Defendant argues that the evidence was insufficient relative to the value of the stolen property in support of his theft convictions; in addition, he raises for the first time on appeal a challenge to the version of the theft grading statute applied during sentencing. Following our review, we conclude that although the evidence regarding the property’s value was sufficient, the trial court should have applied the amended theft grading statute that went into effect on January 1, 2017, and that plain error relief is warranted. We remand for the entry of corrected judgments in Counts 3 and 4 reflecting Class A misdemeanor convictions and a sentence of eleven months, twenty-nine days to serve. The trial court’s merger of the convictions and its determination regarding consecutive sentencing will remain the same.

Knox County Court of Criminal Appeals 11/02/20
Leslie Burnett Montgomery v. Gary Alan Montgomery
M2020-00314-COA-R3-CV

This divorce action concerns the trial court’s classification and division of the marital estate, among other issues concerning the trial. We affirm the trial court’s judgment

Davidson County Court of Appeals 11/02/20
Judith Michele Dial v. James Klemis, M.D., et al.
W2019-02115-COA-R3-CV

This is a health care liability case. The defendants moved to dismiss the complaint due to the plaintiff’s failure to comply with Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-26-121(a)(2)(E), arguing that the plaintiff had not provided them HIPAA compliant medical authorizations allowing them to receive medical records from the other providers being sent statutorily-required pre-suit notice. The trial court agreed with the defendants’ argument and, upon observing that the plaintiff was not entitled to rely on the 120-day extension of the statutory limitation period pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-26-121(c), held that the complaint was time-barred and should be dismissed with prejudice. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 11/02/20
State of Tennessee v. Revada Wright
E2018-01778-CCA-R3-CD

The Defendant, Revada Wright, was convicted by a Bradley County Criminal Court jury of speeding, a Class C misdemeanor, and possession with the intent to sell or deliver more than 0.5 gram of cocaine, a Class B felony. See T.C.A. §§ 39-17-417 (Supp. 2012) (subsequently amended) (possession of cocaine); 55-8-152 (2017) (speeding). He received a sentence of twelve years. On appeal, the Defendant contends that the trial court erred by denying his motion for a judgment of acquittal because there is insufficient evidence to support his drug conviction. We reverse the judgment for possession with the intent to sell or deliver more than 0.5 gram of cocaine, vacate the Defendant’s conviction, and dismiss the charge.

Bradley County Court of Criminal Appeals 11/02/20
Jeff Druek v. Hydrogen Engine Center, Inc., Et Al.
E2019-02142-COA-R3-CV

This action involves the plaintiff’s attempted levy of execution on improved real property in Greeneville, Tennessee, owned by an intervening corporation, HEC-TINA, Inc. (“HECTINA”), and subject to a lease by another corporation, Plastic Innovation, Inc. (collectively, “Intervenors”), to satisfy a judgment against the original defendant/debtor corporation, Hydrogen Engine Center, Inc., of Iowa. The plaintiff alleged that Hydrogen Engine Center, Inc., was the parent corporation of HEC-TINA. Following a hearing and upon Intervenors’ pleadings, the Greene County Circuit Court (“trial court”) entered two orders, one granting Intervenors’ petition to intervene and one granting Intervenors’ motion to quash any levy of execution on assets owned by HEC-TINA. The plaintiff has appealed the latter order. Having determined that the order granting the motion to quash was entered based upon the consent and agreement of both the plaintiff and Intervenors, we affirm. We deny Intervenors’ motions to consider post-judgment facts and Intervenors’ request for attorney’s fees on appeal.

Greene County Court of Appeals 10/30/20
In Re Alexis S.
E2020-00405-COA-R3-PT

This appeal concerns the trial court’s dismissal of termination petitions upon remand. We reverse the dismissal of the petition as applied to the father but affirm the dismissal of the petition as applied to the mother.

Hamblen County Court of Appeals 10/30/20
State of Tennessee v. Jonathan Richens
E2019-01854-CCA-R3-CD

The Defendant, Jonathan Richens, appeals from the Sevier County Circuit Court’s revocation of probation for his effective six-year sentence for resisting arrest and aggravated assault. The Defendant contends that the trial court erred by revoking his probation and ordering him to serve the remainder of his sentence in confinement. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Sevier County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/30/20
State of Tennessee v. David Scott Whitson, Jr.
E2019-02227-CCA-R3-CD

Defendant, David Scott Whitson, Jr., appeals from the trial court’s revocation of his Community Corrections sentence in May 2019. Defendant argues that the trial court abused its discretion when it required Defendant to serve his sentence. After conducting a thorough review of the record, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Sullivan County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/30/20
Heun Kim, et al. v. State of Tennessee
W2019-01027-COA-R3-CV

This matter is before the court for a second time. Plaintiffs filed a negligence suit in the Tennessee Claims Commission against the State of Tennessee after their six-year-old son fell from the fifth-floor balcony of the state-owned and -operated Paris Landing State Park Inn. Plaintiffs alleged that the State was negligent in two respects: 1) in allowing their son to gain access to an unoccupied guest room and the attached balcony, and 2) in maintaining balcony railings that were shorter in height than was required by applicable building codes. Following a bench trial, the Tennessee Claims Commissioner concluded that the Plaintiffs failed to establish that the State’s negligence was the proximate cause of their son’s injuries. Plaintiffs appealed to this Court, and we held that the Commissioner’s conclusions of law were deficient and vacated and remanded the case for further consideration. On remand, the Commissioner entered a supplemental order that included additional conclusions of law as to both claims for negligence, and, again, determined that the Plaintiffs failed to meet their burden of proving that the Inn’s acts were the proximate cause of their son’s fall and dismissed the claim in its entirety. Plaintiffs again appeal. We affirm the Commissioner’s holding that Plaintiffs failed to establish that the negligence of the Inn was the proximate cause of their son’s injuries.

Court of Appeals 10/30/20
State of Tennessee v. Dane Lee Duckett
E2019-01788-CCA-R3-CD

The Appellant, Dane Lee Duckett, appeals the Cumberland County Criminal Court’s denial of his motion to withdraw his guilty pleas to three counts of possession of one-half gram or more of methamphetamine with intent to sell, which resulted in an effective ten-year sentence. Based upon the record and the parties’ briefs, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Cumberland County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/30/20
In Re Brian W. Et Al.
M2020-00172-COA-R3-PT

A mother and father appeal the juvenile court’s decision to terminate their parental rights based on six statutory grounds.  They also challenge the juvenile court’s finding by clear and convincing evidence that termination of their parental rights was in the best interest of the children.  We affirm the juvenile court’s termination of the mother’s and father’s parental rights.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 10/30/20
Loans Yes v. Kroger Limited Partnership I Et Al.
M2019-01506-COA-R3-CV

A commercial tenant stopped paying rent on leased space six months before the end of its five-year term. The landlord was unsuccessful in its attempts to find a replacement tenant and sued the tenant for breach of contract. The trial court found in favor of the landlord and awarded it damages, including unpaid rent, late fees, prejudgment interest, and attorney’s fees. The tenant appealed. Other than a change in the amount of late fees awarded and instructions regarding recalculating the prejudgment interest, we affirm the trial court’s judgment.

Rutherford County Court of Appeals 10/30/20
In Re Rommie H.
M2019-01359-COA-R3-PT

A mother appeals the termination of her parental rights to her child. The trial court concluded that the paternal grandparents had proven three statutory grounds for terminating the mother’s parental rights: abandonment by failure to visit; abandonment by failure to support; and failure to manifest an ability and willingness to assume custody of her child. The court also concluded that termination of the mother’s parental rights was in the child’s best interest. On appeal, the mother argues that the grandparents’ petition did not sufficiently plead the statutory grounds for termination. And even if sufficiently pled, the mother argues that the evidence of the grounds and the child’s best interest was less than clear and convincing. We affirm. 

Sumner County Court of Appeals 10/30/20
Terry Wallace v. City of Lewisburg, Tennessee
M2019-01690-COA-R3-CV

Former city employee brought suit for age discrimination under the Tennessee Human Rights Act. Based upon its determination that the city fired the employee because a majority of the city council members disapproved of his job performance and that the employee failed to prove that age was a determining factor in his termination, the trial court dismissed the employee’s complaint. We affirm.  

Marshall County Court of Appeals 10/30/20